"Hehe, sorry about that Sakura-chan." Naruto clumsily stood up and held his hand out to her.
Sakura grabbed it.
And promptly propelled him into a wall.
"You baka, don't go body slamming me like that!" Sakura growled, shaking an angry fist at him.
Kakashi, who had been standing in the background with Sai, sighed, sweatdropping. "Now, now, Sakura, you should expect this behavior from Naruto by now. Honestly, he can't help himself."
Sakura huffed, dusting off her skirt. "Baka."
'Don't jump onto women from behind.' Sai observed, writing this little tidbit on a notepad he always kept on him.
Naruto pulled himself out of the wall, holding his hands up in surrender. "Eh, sorry Sakura-chan!"
Sakura shook her head. "Why are you guys here anyway?"
Standing in the hall of the Hokage Tower, Sakura had been busy delivering papers for Shizune until a certain knucklehead glomped her. Thankfully she had just sat the files down on a desk the moment before Naruto crashed into her. Noticing a piece of paper had fallen onto the floor, Sakura bent to pick it up with a sigh.
"We're getting a mission!" Naruto exclaimed.
The pinkette turned to look at Kakashi, waiting for the scarecrow to elaborate.
"Naruto is getting impatient to receive his next mission, so he dragged us along to beg Tsunade-sama for one." Kakashi stated in a bored tone.
Sai was still drawing.
"Well I was just summoned there anyway." Sakura said. "You guys can come with me."
With a large smile, Naruto dropped an arm over Sakura's shoulders in his usual friendly manner and began to talk her ear off as they headed for the stairs. Kakashi and Sai followed, the older jonin smiling at his students, reminiscing of his own younger days.
The happy atmosphere was quickly cut short the moment the door to Tsunade's office opened.
Sakura froze where she stood, just outside the door, staring in horror at the man standing in front of the Hokage's desk.
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked when Sakura didn't enter the doorway with him.
Tsunade's head snapped up and her eyes widened when she saw Naruto, Kakashi, and Sai standing around her apprentice just outside the doorway. The Godaime had not expected Sakura to come with her friends.
"Naruto, Kakashi, Sai," Tsunade called. "I need to speak with Sakura alone."
Naruto looked up protectively at the man that Sakura couldn't rip her eyes from. He was tall, with a thick, muscular build. His face was shadowed in the way his back faced the windows. The dying sunlight lit pale red hair, his body relaxed but exuding a predatory aura. He wore a long coat that hid his body from view, other than combat boats and the tell-tale gleam of a boot knife.
"Who is he, Baa-chan?" Naruto growled.
"Dammit, don't call me that Naruto!" Tsunade slammed her hand down.
Sakura's hand moved to place a comforting hand on Naruto's arm, gently removing it from her person, but still maintaining eye contact with the man in the room. "It's okay, Naruto. You should leave now."
Naruto was about to argue when he felt Kakashi pull him away. "Listen to orders, Naruto." Kakashi warned.
With an emotionless mask Naruto was unused to seeing on Sakura, his teammate entered the office. The door shut with a final and definite click, and Naruto felt the wards around the room activate. These wards were stronger than usual, making Naruto and his companions wonder just what exactly Tsunade wanted with Sakura.
Who would have thought it would end up like this?
We lost the chance
Trying to take it back before it all went wrong
FIVE YEARS EARLIER
It had been a relatively normal day. Tsunade kicked her ass in the morning in a torture ritual mistakenly dubbed training, then her shisou sent her to assist Shizune in the hospital, spending eight gruesome hours observing her sempai in surgeries and helping to heal minor wounds. But Sakura had hope. Shizune had told her that she was improving with leaps and bounds, although Tsunade would never tell her. Apparently Shizune had never seen someone with such a natural talent for healing.
Sakura smiled through the bruise on her cheek from a particularly nasty training session with Tsunade earlier that morning. Nodding politely to her neighbor, Sakura opened her apartment and walked in, flicking the lights on. She was not expecting the scroll sitting innocently on her kitchen table.
Imprinted on the rare gold wax was a circle, with the kanjis for 'inner beast' entwined elegantly in the circle, barely legible.
Her breath hitched.
No no no no no no this can't be… I'm imagining things. This is just a nightmare.
She squeezed her eyes tight and then snapped them open.
The scroll was still on the table.
Tentatively, Sakura approached, reaching out to touch the wax seal. With trembling hands, she picked up the parchment, the smell of fresh wax drifting to her nose, as well as the scent of fresh rain and forest.
The messenger has been here recently. Her thoughts were panicked at how strong the scent still was.
Suddenly the panic took over, and her movements became frenzied as she broke the seal and unwound the scroll.
Sakura's heart froze at the first sentence.
'Haruno Sakura, you are hereby called to perform your duty to your clan. Your blood calls upon you to rejoin your family. We are willing to overlook the trespass of your parents, for their sins are not yours. You will not be blamed for their mistakes, daughter.
It took all her strength not to cry out in a rage and hurl the offending paper into the wall, or set it aflame with a Katon.
Mistakes? Her thoughts screeched as Sakura let out an angry scream through clenched teeth. My parents made no mistake about keeping me from the clan! How dare you disrespect them in such a way! I will never join the clan!
Leaping into action, Sakura rolled up the scroll and slipped it into her vest, then swiftly exited her apartment and took to the rooftops. It was nearly eleven at night, and unsurprisingly there were still many ninja out at this time, going about their business using what the civilians dubbed 'ninja highway'. Approaching the Hokage Tower, Sakura was relieved to see the light in Tsunade's office still on.
Without hesitating, she slipped in through the window.
"Sakura! What the hell do you think you are doing?" Tsunade growled.
Making sure they were completely alone, Sakura activated the wards around the office, then strengthened them with her chakra. Tsunade raised an eyebrow when she sensed the wards around her office strengthen by tenfold. She hadn't known Sakura could do that.
The Hokage became wary when she saw Sakura's face. Never had the older woman seen Sakura with a blank, unreadable face. Her apprentice had always been so open about her feelings, and seeing Sakura with a stony expression gave the Hokage shivers.
Reaching into her vest, Sakura pulled out the scroll and sat it down on the desk in front of Tsunade firmly.
Tsunade observed Sakura's tense, angry movements. The way the pinkette's fingers had clutched the scroll did not go unnoticed. Looking closely at the wax seal that had already been broken, Tsunade's eyes widened at the seal.
"Sakura." She started. "This looks a lot like your clan symbol."
Glancing up suspiciously, the Godaime saw something like fury flash in Sakura's eyes.
"It is." Sakura replied with a clipped voice.
Tsunade raised an eyebrow, silently ordering the girl to go on.
"It is different though." Sakura elaborated. "The kanjis are missing from mine for a reason though."
From Sakura's tone, Tsunade felt that if she asked for further explanation, Sakura would not answer. So with the heavy silence baring down on her, Tsunade opened the scroll and began to read. Her eyes gradually widened until she felt that her eyes would pop out.
"Would you…" Tsunade had to clear her throat. "Would you mind telling me… what exactly this is supposed to mean?"
Sakura began to pace in frustration. "Well obviously my clan is asking me to report to them."
"Sakura I have never heard of the Haruno clan before you." Tsunade stated. "And when I had Shizune look into your back ground- and I had every right to, don't look at me like that- I found nothing other than your parents' civilian files. I had imagined your parents merely came from a distant civilian clan."
Sakura slanted a look at the Hokage.
"Obviously I was wrong in my assumption." Tsunade inferred from Sakura's gaze. "Care to explain?"
"Whether you give me permission to go or not, they will come for me." Sakura growled. "The Haruno clan does not take 'no' for an answer. Hell, even if I told them I wanted nothing to do with them they would still force me."
Tsunade's brow furrowed.
Finally, Sakura seemed to calm down and took a seat in front of the Godaime. "I will warn you, Tsunade-sama." She murmured, gazing out of the windows.
The pinkette turned to lock eyes with Tsunade, her eyes burning with intensity. "They will change me."
The next day Sakura had been at the hospital with Shizune when a messenger came to get her.
"Iiieeee!" Sakura nearly collided with the ANBU operative that magically appeared in front of her as she was heading to the lounge. She swore she saw the masked man's shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. The young medic pinned the ANBU with a disapproving glare. "You ANBU enjoy doing that, don't you."
"The Hokage requires your presence."
She detected the amusement in the man's voice and glared at him anew. "I'll be there in a second." She snapped.
The ANBU operative didn't move.
"You're in my way." She stated with a huff, crossing her arms.
"My apologies, Miss."
"Yeah right." Sakura muttered in annoyance. What was with this guy?
The ANBU chuckled.
"You're enjoying this." She deadpanned.
He shrugged. "Slightly."
Sakura resisted the urge to smack her forehead. "Why?" she lifted an eyebrow expectantly.
Another chuckle. "I am to make sure you report to the Hokage's office as soon as possible."
Now Sakura really did face-palm. "Kami help me, you are so lucky we are in the hospital, otherwise I'd be punching your pretty little mask off." She grumbled, pushing past the man.
She walked into the lounge, the other medics looking up in surprise when she was followed by the ANBU operative. Studiously ignoring the masked man, Sakura walked over to the simmering pot of life. Pouring herself some coffee, Sakura sighed happily as she drank.
"Hokage's office…" a masculine voice reminded her.
"Shut up, I just came from surgery; give me a break, will ya?" Sakura snapped.
"Is that why you've been a bad mood?"
Sakura whirled to glare into the mask. "You are really talkative for an ANBU, you know that?"
She sipped from her coffee again, snarling under her breath. "No sleep last night, two major surgeries, and now I'm stuck with a talkative ANBU jerk. Just great."
Another manly chuckle.
Sakura turned back to the counter and set her mug on the counter. "Fine, fine. Let's go."
With purposeful steps, the pinkette strode to the Hokage's office, aware of the ANBU shadowing her path. She was really going to have to tell Tsunade about this new idiot. Did he hit his head or something? ANBU were never this talkative.
He appeared again in front of the Hokage's office, opening the door for her. Sakura could sense the smirk behind the mask and scowled.
"Haruno-san has arrived, Hokage-sama." The ANBU operative announced.
Sakura stuck her tongue out at him as he turned to close the door, and saw his shoulder shake with silent laughter. The door clicked shut behind her before she realized someone else was in the room.
This man was tall, thick, and muscular; his body build similar to Ibiki's. Sakura was aware of his eyes studying her, and she shifted nervously. His hair was red, with a streak of white standing out on the right side of his face, hanging straight at jaw length. His face was heart shaped, with piercing jade eyes, cold and calculating. They seemed to soften as he gazed at her. This man looked to be about Kakashi's age, with a small scar along his left jaw.
His arms were crossed over a large chest, rippling with rock hard muscles that she could see through his muscle shirt, sleeveless and similar to the ANBU shirts. He wore nin pants and combat boots, and a long coat over that.
However intimidating this man was, radiating a dangerous aura, Sakura noticed the way his eyes flashed with recognition for a moment.
Oh dear. She thought when she glimpsed a white circle on the right flap of his coat. They didn't even wait 24 hours!
"Sakura-chan…" Tsunade started awkwardly, interrupting the staring contest. "This is…"
"My name is Haruno Arashi." His deep bass cut in.
Sakura gulped looking into his stoic jade eyes.
"You are Haruno Sakura, I presume."
Somehow she managed to nod her head.
Abruptly the man turned to Tsunade. "This is the girl then? Good. We will leave now."
As the large man turned to walk out the door, Tsunade snapped. "Just who the hell do you think you are?"
Sakura cringed, feeling trapped between two tigers.
The man, Arashi, turned to have a glaring match with the Hokage. "I am a Haruno, sent to retrieve a lost child."
"Sakura is hardly a lost child!" Tsunade clipped. "On what grounds are you removing her from the village? I certainly do not remember you giving permission to take her away."
I can't even celebrate my fourteenth birthday in peace… Sakura thought sullenly.
"The Haruno clan has summoned all its children, which includes Sakura." Arashi countered. "Even as Hokage, you cannot interfere with Clan duties."
"I can if it affects my village, Arashi-san." Tsunade stated. "And Sakura is a valued medic who we cannot afford to lose."
Arashi made an annoyed grunt under his breath, Sakura ignoring the colorful word. "Our clan duties are not affecting your precious village in any way. Since there are no immediate emergencies, you cannot keep Sakura here when she is being summoned."
Tsunade knew she was beaten.
Arashi turned to Sakura. "Your family and birthright are waiting for you."
Sakura stared up at him.
"Come, Sakura." He ordered, and she knew that she was no longer under the Hokage's protection. Tsunade gave her an apologetic look, and Sakura turned to follow Haruno Arashi.
"Goodbye, Sakura." The Godaime whispered.
They didn't stop at her apartment. She never said goodbye to any of her friends. Nor did they exit through the village gates.
Sakura was shocked when he approached an unguarded part of the wall that encircled the village. The buildings around were just tall enough that the patrols would be unable to see him grip a part of the mortar and pull it just far enough that Sakura could see a hollowed out passage in the wall.
Arashi ignored the way Sakura's mouth gaped open like a fish and pushed her into the dark passageway, shutting the brick wall behind them.
And then, Sakura saw a pair of glowing green eyes.
"Damn, girl. Don't do that." Arashi flinched as the close stone walls amplified Sakura's yell so that it pierced both their ears.
"Sorry." Sakura whispered.
"Follow me." He muttered.
Sakura somehow thought to grip the back of the man's coat as he walked confidently down the dark passage while all Sakura could see was black.
"Uh… why are your eyes glowing?" she ventured to ask.
Arashi glanced at her; she could tell because for a moment she actually saw something other than darkness. The jade color his eyes were in the sunlight was suddenly a vibrant emerald in the darkness. Sakura wondered why her eyes never did that.
"So you never discovered huh?" he asked her.
Sakura felt a stab of indignation. "No shit." She snapped, bumping into Arashi's back as he whirled around and flicked her in the forehead. "Hey!"
He gave her a disapproving look at her cussing before turning to walk away again.
By now they had to be approaching the other side of the wall, and just as the thought crossed Sakura's mind, Arashi stopped and began tugging on something.
"Uh… need help?"
Arashi paused and glanced at her. "You have Tsunade's strength?" he questioned.
Without speaking, Arashi stepped away from the wall and pushed her forward.
"I, uh, can't see a thing." Sakura squeaked.
She heard him move behind her and suddenly her hands were placed on the crack in the wall. With a quiet 'thank you' Sakura grabbed the cracks and began easily pulling the large piece of stone out of its place. Light flooded her senses, and Sakura had to take a moment to squint and wait for her eyes to adjust.
Arashi pushed her out of the passage and followed her. Sakura turned to close the passage, making a mental note to fix the breach in security when she returned.
"So why didn't we just leave through the gates?" Sakura asked him as he began to walk briskly away from the wall before the patrols spotted them. She had to jog to keep up.
He slowed down after they had reached a reasonable distance from the village. "Let's just say the Konoha elders were never exactly on good terms with the Harunos."
"Why?" Sakura asked.
He slanted a glance at her. "You will learn when we reach the compound."
Sakura felt something stir in her chest at the word 'compound. But it was not a good feeling. In fact, it felt strangely ominous.
"So can you tell me why your eyes were… well, glowing?" she asked again.
He huffed as if it should be obvious. "Night vision."
He's as much of a conversationalist as Neji. She thought sarcastically, refusing to think of a much different stoic, duck-butt boy.
"And why do you have night vision?" She asked.
"You will learn."
Sakura huffed. Seriously?
So she stayed quiet and tried to figure out which direction they were heading. It looked to be east, as the sun was setting at their backs. Still, since she was unsure of which direction they had exited Konoha, she wasn't sure where they might be headed.
Other than occasionally asking Arashi for some of his water, they walked silently all day. All day. Without stopping. Yep, still walking.
Finally they stopped for the night. Arashi tossed Sakura his sleeping roll, saying he would keep night watch. Used to dealing with such men (i.e. Kakashi, Neji, certain duck-butts…) Sakura figured who was she to object and he could deal with the consequences.
Just as she laid down in the bed roll he spoke up.
"You look like her."
Sakura's head snapped up in surprise. "…Huh?"
There was a long pause in which Arashi simply watched her from his tree branch. Finally, he spoke, so softly, she almost missed it. "… Your mother."
Sakura froze, her eyes narrowing. "Don't mention my parents to me." She hissed, turning her back to him and closing her eyes.
In the morning, they were off again, the night's previous conversation, if it could be called one, seemingly forgotten.
The longer they walked, the more a feeling of dread pooled in her stomach. Sakura knew the reason her parents had not wanted her to be raised by the clan, why they had run away with their little girl. She did not remember anything about her first two years growing up with the Haruno clan, and before she had turned three her parents had fled to seek refuge in Konoha.
Her father and mother had told her stories- the Haruno clan was brutal in their training and in their traditions. Worse than the Uchiha or Hyuuga. It was the reason why her parents had been so against her becoming a kunoichi. The Harunos did not just expect one to hide their emotions, but expect one to be without emotions and ruthless in their actions. Quick, efficient, unquestioning of orders. Her parents never went into detail, but whatever methods the Harunos used, they were effective.
"Here." Arashi's voice interrupted the quiet air that had surrounded them throughout the trip.
A tall wall blocked everything from view, but as the iron gates opened to let them in, Sakura glanced up at the large mansion and gasped in awe. The location was surrounded by trees, yet she saw acres of flat land no doubt used for training. The compound was huge, stretching beyond her knowledge. The architecture was obviously well maintained, she could tell buildings had been built long ago, yet it looked as if she had stepped back through time. And the gardens! Flowers of every kind bloomed in beautiful, well maintained swirls and bushes. Lilac, snapdragons, roses of every color, gardenias, poppies, irises, lilies, and many more.
"It's beautiful." She murmured, not noticing the way Arashi glanced at her with regret.
"Come." He said gruffly, and led her into the mansion.
Sakura attempted not to gawk at the sheer opulence of the interior. It was extravagant, per se. It was all simple beauty. She knew the materials were the best of the best (were those marble statues from Iwa?), but it was lacking that feeling of being lived-in, lacking the warmth of a true home. Everything was pristine and clean, but cold and unfeeling. And she saw no people.
"Where is everyone?" she asked softly.
Arashi turned to look at her, towering over Sakura by an entire foot. "It would be wise for you to not speak unless spoken to. They are having a clan meeting in your honor-"
"-and so everyone has gathered to welcome you home." He finished, giving her a glare.
In my honor? She huffed inwardly. I am the daughter of those they consider traitors. I doubt they consider me anything less than scum. They are just too proud to let one of their own blood go running rampant.
Sakura followed Arashi into the main dining hall, from the looks of it. As he stepped to the side, unblocking her view of the room, Sakura was surprised. After all, she had no idea what to expect from her family, having never met any relatives before.
The table was long. Like, really long. On either side sat many Harunos, all gazing up at her with veiled curiosity, a mixture of red and white hair, with one or two pink haired ninjas. At the end sat a wizened woman, whose jade eyes seemed to be as old as time, with many stern wrinkled around her eyes and mouth. Sakura suspected this to be the infamous Haruno matriarch, whom her parents had only ever referred to in whispers.
The woman looked a lot like how Sakura would imagine herself in 100 or so years. Sakura suspected that instead of her hair graying over the years, it had paled, for the elder woman had the palest pink hair, held in place by ornate chopsticks. Her hands were placed firmly on the table, surprisingly less wrinkled than her age would suggest. Sharp jade eyes seemed to stare straight into Sakura's soul, and Sakura felt as if the woman were sinking her claws into her mind.
"So this is Haruno Sakura."
Sakura managed not to flinched at the voice, cracking like a whip. "Yes, my lady."
The old woman's thin lips twitched. "It seems my treacherous descendants at least did not fail to instill manners into you, my daughter."
Sakura's eyes flashed with curiosity. "Forgive me, my lady," thank Kami being Tsunade's apprentice had taught her diplomacy, "but I do not follow. Why do you refer to me as your 'daughter'?"
The woman let out a sharp, clipped laugh, the sound grating. "I am your ancestor by a few generations, my child. I simply refer to my descendants as my children. But to be frank, I am your great-grandmother."
Sakura nodded slowly.
"I am Etsuyo." The woman chuckled. "But as my daughter, you may simply refer to me as Baa-san."
Sakura didn't particularly want to refer to her as 'Baa-chan' but she knew it would be rude not to. And she had a feeling this woman was not one of piss off.
"Baa-san." Sakura murmured with a respectful bow, trying to swallow the bitter taste in her mouth.
"Arashi-kun, thank you for bringing home dear Sakura-chan." Etsuyo smiled at Arashi, who was standing behind Sakura. The smile looked painful on the older woman.
Sakura had to admit, Tsunade had nothing on her apparent ancestor. While she doubted Etsuyo had Tsunade's secret youth technique, the woman had without a doubt aged well. If Etsuyo was as old as Sakura suspected, she didn't have nearly the amount of wrinkles she should have. This old woman looked fifty, when she should be at least eighty.
"Why was I summoned, my lady?" Sakura questioned, unnerved by the blank expressions of the clan members.
"Dear child, I insist you call me baa-san." Etsuyo chuckled. "I called because we, the Harunos, wished to bring our lost blood back into the fold!"
Etsuyo was not nearly as ecstatic as her words suggested, her face barely betraying emotion other than her obviously fake smile.
"That does not answer my question, baa-san."
A sickeningly sweet smile lit the elder face of Sakura's grandmother.
"You are here to become a Haruno."
Suddenly the room became very cold as Sakura realized none of her apparent relatives were looking at her with any semblance of warmth or welcome.
Sakura unconsciously took a step back.
"You trained under the Godaime, correct Sakura-chan?" Etsuyo asked with a calculating glance.
"H-hai." Sakura answered, glancing around the room cautiously. She was badly outnumbered, and had no doubt at least half the people in the room could kill her with their hands tied.
"Don't act so reluctant, my child." Etsuyo soothed, and Sakura was reminded of the witches in fairytales that tell the innocent girl that they are helpless old women. "You training will be most advantageous."
Bright jade eyes locked with a predatory, hawk-like set that mirrored the color. "What do you want from me?" Sakura began to formulate plans of escape, instinctively reaching for her kunai.
There was a dark laugh. "Sakura… we are going to turn you into a living, breathing weapon. Is that not what you've always wanted?"
The other Haruno members had already gotten to their feet, watching Sakura impassively. Their stances were deceptively relaxed, yet ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. Her relatives were so utterly emotionless, Sakura was painfully reminded of ANBU Root.
"And if I refuse?" Sakura dared question.
Etsuyo's eyes sharpened into daggers of ice, her voice hissing in a way that would have made Orochimaru jealous. "I'm afraid you do not have a choice. Your blood is mine."
The Haruno clan attacked.